Overlanding reflection

It always starts this way. The beginning of our day is the call of birdsongs and the din of cicada beckoning in the new dawn. Even before light fills the sky, we hear life calling the day in. And we rise. As one. To sit amongst this life with our coffee. And watch as the show begins. Birds, frogs, centipedes, crickets and lizards appear. Then the butterflies and bees and colonies of ants. It’s a show of the species of the biome. It changes constantly with climate and geological conditions. But it’s always there.

We are downstairs on our chairs. Coffee in hand. Absorbing the dawn species spectacle and chatting about our day. Should we go or should we stay ? Where to next ? What if the roads and what if the people and what if the truckers and what if the time and what if the distance. Usually we have no answers to anything. Route planning is guess work. The internet has not yet penetrated the details of the road terrain or the people and the countless other unknowns of African continental road tripping. It’s guesswork as I say. And trust. We simply trust our instinct and know that above all else we will work this day as one.

Being one is a big thing. It’s constant. Living in a few square meters of space leaves no room for individualism or egos or arrogance. Facing the most treacherous roads and climate conditions and disease threats leaves no space for a holier than thou attitude or trickery or rash bravery or even personal misalignment. It demands a certain sense of the long view, of perspective, of inner comfort and making peace with unknowns, and of deep deep resolve and patience. And it demands a definite sensitivity to the other, a broad and conscious mind frame to problem solve together and find solutions no matter what, a definite sense of care that is more weighty and measures way beyond what one used to know about caring for the other. Now the other is everything else you need to complete the total you. Together we are one; divided we fall. We both know that.

Sounds odd. But it is real. Road tripping across Africa raises the bar on a lot of things. On every aspect of relationship management between each other and between us and everyone else. It raises the bar on countless daily operational challenges. And everything else in between. It raises the bar on what time itself means. Like when it takes a day of driving hard to do just 50kms, when it takes half a day to find and exchange some money, or a week to find clean water, or a month to find a longed-for destination across roads that conspire to break your will. African road tripping raises the bar on just about everything.

Bit by bit it changes you. Wears down your horizon of expectations. Wears them down until you have none. And expect none. Knowing that Africa will deliver whatever it does in its own time at its own rhythm and through its own mysterious and definite song line. All you need to do and know is to listen to that song line, hear it’s call, follow it’s notes. Delete your embedded bank of expectation and indeed your lurking prejudice and reach complete acceptance. And you will be fine.

Road tripping Africa penetrates everything. Even for us folk who have lived as partners for more than four decades. It strips us down and makes us see and appreciate each other anew. Perhaps it is the living and working and driving in a cruiser home-on-wheels constantly that opens up a whole set of new learnings and experiences of our mission together and of one another. We work and eat and sleep and drive and cook and do ablutions together all the time. Everything has its place so either of us can instantly find whatever it is that we need. Each step we take is about caring for the other and not just oneself. If one rises so does the other. If one falls so does the other. Because we know deep inside us that without the other we are incapacitated and incomplete for the challenges of the road ahead.

It’s an education. Not least because it opens up vistas into the self. Self not just as the partner of the other, but more directly as caucasian foreigners who can so easily become the object of some nationals distrust. Self as in finding the resolve to dig deep to dissipate that which divides us from the other, from the restless crowd. Self as in the need to constantly self reflect. Deeply. To think hard about evolving the self and striving to be the agent of compassion, rather than a prisoner of arrogance and self righteousness. Self in being alone. I mean completely alone with the people all about you. Being that foreign and unknown one, incapacitated by a lack of language fluency, reliant on gestures and drawings for help and solidarity. The apex conqueror of old now dethroned and debilitated and alone. Now trusting only ones own humble offering of honesty and submission and servility for survival. Without words. Without logic. Without reason. Naked. Stripped naked before the anger or the goodwill of the other. It’s humbling. And raw. And liberating. All at the same time.

This is not the place for heroes and egos. This is not the place for answers and logic. Or rules and regulation. This is Africa. It changes by the minute, the hour and the day. What was is gone. What is, is what is. And what is now can also be what it is not too. Do not measure Africa with the yardstick of what you once knew. Do not search for a logic of something that appears illogical. It will drive you insane. Just be. Be present and polite and humble and available. For anything. Because anything and everything also goes in Africa, dressed up in a costume of laugher and fun.

Kalandula Falls and kindness.

Standing tall and strong before me, Kalandula Falls pushes out its big, bold chest for all the world to see. We watch in awe. It’s mesmerizing. Transfixed as it constantly drops its wide white veil into a roar of thunder. Standing steadfast, proud and true. There is a wisdom in its contours. And it’s sound has a certain depth and dignity that comes from the ages. Of conflict and struggle and change – soft on the eye and yet, yet harsh on the rocks below. We hear it again. It’s thunders. And roars. Fueling a heavy cloud of steam like spray that rises and hangs in the hot air above the falls. This is Kalandula – Africas second great cloud that thunders.

Above the falls we see a pair of soaring palmnut vultures, their black and white wings distinctive and true against the evening sky. Over the tree tops in the gorge below the falls, we see the diagnostic red flash of the wings of the endemic white faced turaco. And everywhere the thundering sound of the water with its mist envelopes us.

The falls are a draw dropping spectacle by any measure. One that should be a certain crown jewel in the nascent Angolan tourist industry. But it’s not. No one is even here. We are alone for the day until a single expat family join us from Luanda in the evening. And that’s how it was for the days we camped out at Kalandula Falls and again at the spectacular black rock formations of Pedras Negras and the azure tropical beaches of Carpe Diem. We never met a single foreign tourist.

Paradoxically, and selfishly perhaps, the absence of tourists is a blessing for us in this West African country that has committed itself to diversify off absolute oil dependence into agri-processing and tourism. A blessing because, although we are alone, we never feel alone. Everywhere we go we are met with nothing but the open heart and warm embrace of Angolans. It is this, this story of the supreme dignity that lies at the heart of Angolan human kindness, that is the story that needs to be told. Because it holds lessons for all nations, all people, and humanity as a whole.

There is Helena and Fransceso. A couple of middle aged Angolans who are bringing the Kalandula Falls Hotel back to its life with a renovation and revamp project. They welcome us and share their food and drinks and ultimately their home outside Luanda with us. We stay under their care for days – swimming and relaxing in their homes. They ask nothing of us except our happiness. They want to see Angola succeed and they work day and night to add their pound of flesh to the dream of a prosperous country. They don’t complain, they don’t blame. They just do. Do for us the same way they do for their country. Build happy memories and economic prosperity.

There is Andrew, an overlander resident in Luanda, whom we meet on an Instagram link and who finds us at the bar near our campsite in Club Naval within hours of our arrival to meet us in person. Andrew is there. He welcomes us to Angola and offers us beer and advice in equal measure. Where to get our gas filled, our washing done, data for our phones and our cruiser maintenance attended to. He answers every question and supplies every link to places to go get all this stuff done in Luanda. And he opens up the doors for us to meet others from the local LandCruiser club and soon others Angolans arrive and our vehicle becomes the object of much discussion, photographing and admiration. Quite unexpectedly our vehicle becomes an instant celebrity and is pasted onto the insta pages online. And suddenly we have countless new found friends connecting and visiting us in our car park campsite. We are sent off to Ricardo to get some maintenance work done.

Ricardo has a broad and welcoming smile that lets you see right into his warm heart. His hands tell a story of labour and his care for the other tells a story of a father and a emerging business professional and much much more. He opens his workshop to us for some the maintenance work on the cruiser. But first we must meet his mother. And then work together on the cruiser. And have lunch at the local eatery with his wife. The lunch is large and starchy and does what it designed to do : fulfill you. We pay a pittance for the lunch and Ricardo says that covers the cost of the work on the cruiser. We shake hands and make plans to go to the beach with his friends and family on the weekend. And we spend a day on the beach with bunches of kids and mothers and husbands. Drinking and eating and wetting our bodies against the harsh sun. We are friends after all. Good friends. Now with a bunch of ordinary Angolans from the LandCruiser club on Luanda.

Then there are the four European overlanders who arrived and set up camp next to us in the car park of Club Naval’s yacht basin of Luanda. Irish, Swiss, English and Dutch. A couple two up on an Africa Twin and another on a Yamaha and the last in a Nissan van. All in month ten of their trip from Morocco to Cape Town. Random travelers who simply met on the road in the north and stayed together for the journey south. They tell stories of the roads ahead, of the warmth of African people, of fights in bars, places to go, officials to handle and friends to make on the road. They link us to west African overlander WhatsApp group to make online connectivity to the family of west African road travelers on everything from bicycles to motorbikes and motor homes. And night after night we share food, beer, politics and that intense traveler road solidarity and love energy that everyone knows will end as we go our separate ways. There are no boundaries here. Each for the other and together we are one. Everything is shared from a bread roll to a story untold.

The stories of the young people are inspiring. They are imbued with the confidence and faith of youth. Everything is positively told and there is no obstacle that is not insurmountable. Their stories delete the last remnants of any angst within me. Nigerians get a glowing review, apart from the 247 checkpoints they did crossing that country. As do the Congo’s and Cameroon people. All good folk we hear. Suddenly everything sounds and is African normal. The darkness of my perception of old is filled with new warmth and light. Africa is after all just Africa. A continent that comes with it’s warm heart and it’s unknowns and it’s treacherous roads constantly held by welcoming hands. We feel instantly at ease with the road ahead. Suddenly a surge of longing for the road and the unknown rises with us. And we feel so so ready for the crossing of the Central African equator and our entry into the north just a few weeks away.

At our campsite in club naval there are shifts of security guards who wait the day and night out in a box near us. We feed them coffee and have broken conversations by day. They are the last people we see as we sleep and the first we see as we rise at dawn. Always there. Present. Non interfering. Seemingly at total peace with who they are in the world. Playing cards and talking all day long. They never hesitate to welcome us day in and day out as we come and go. They too are our friends that provide a secure presence at the perimeter of our temporary home.

There is more. Way more. But you get the drift. Angola just opens up its warm heart to everyone and anyone who cares to venture into its bosom. It makes me think. Think of what it means to be a good person in my own life. Of my countless human failings to reach to others and be there for them. No matter what. I’m unlearning everything. Learning to give more and care more. To be present in the moment. To think only of the now – today and all the day holds. To forget the passed beyond a distant memory. To live a life of listening and giving and observing. And seeking acceptance by what one does for others, rather than what one thinks of oneself. It’s a deeply satisfying evolution. Thanks to what I have learnt from the people of Angola.

Road tripping across Angola

As I write this I am sitting in my car on Angolan tracks outside the northern town of Mucondo, a stones throw from the border of the DRC. Wild camping. As in camping out in a equatorial forest hidden from the road. Around me I hear frogs and birds and can see the last remnants of a sunset in the west. The sun casts a golden blanket over the top of the forest as it sets. Its magical. And alive. Very much alive. I can hear every sound. Smell every scent. Or so it seems. But I have a story to tell. It’s the story of what we have experienced on the road. So here goes.

Some days ago we left the safety of our campsite at Chifumso chimp centre and started driving west towards the Zambian Chavuma border with Angola. This border crossing is in the centre of the far western province of Zambia. It’s is very remote. We knew that very few overlanders had ever crossed it. In fact we discovered that no trucks or service vehicles even go there. Just people on foot with relatives in both of the two neighboring countries. Or so we are told by the local village people.

But it has always been my dream to cross this border. Remote and wild. Somewhat edgy. Just what I need to get going and deal with my inner angst. And also I just need to see what’s out there and trust the people and the process.

So we decided we are gonna cross it regardless, until we read in iOverlander that the ferry to cross the Zambezi River on the Angolan side was no longer working. Which means we couldn’t access the west road we had planned to access into Angola. That stopped us in our tracks. And the “what if” discussion started in the car on the way there. So many unknowns surfaced. Such hard choices.

The safe option was to drive the long way round to Luanda by going south via Mongu to Katima Mulilo, then west though Caprivi strip into Namibia, and then north through Ruacana into Angola and drive the long road north to Luanda. An addition of many, many thousands of kilos and a south drive when we should be going west and north. But the safe option holds all the advantages of reliable fuel and a tar road all the way there.

The alternative was to trust our instincts and risk the remote and unchartered Chavuma-Caripande border. That means we go west and stay west and climb a bit north to get into the same latitude as Luanda. Way shorter and way harder. We go off road all the time. And we go into the unknown in regard to river crossings and the road and weather conditions. And the rainy season has just begun. It’s a hard choice.

After much debate and deliberations we reluctantly decided to follow the safe and reliable route. Something in our heads as start up grandparents tugged at that conservative family-loving gene in us. So we typed “Mongu” into the GPS. Garmin told us to do a U-turn and head back east again to find the track south to Mongu. Bitterly disappointed we turned around when we were just short of the town of Zambezi in far west Zambia, and only 120kms from the Angolan Caripande border.

Our discomfort with our choice was palpable in the car as we drove back on our tracks. So we stopped at the next village. I needed a conversation with the people on the ground. We found some old men under a tree and sat down with them and opened up our big, yellow National Geographic “African Adventure Atlas” book and talked to the old men about our route dilemma and our choices. They convinced us : go west through Caripande. And they gave us fuel to boot. So we turned around again and headed west for the border once more. Believing. Hoping. Trusting ourselves and the people on the ground to guide us.

When we got to the town of Zambezi, a mere 20kms from the border, we went to the police to find out if a border crossing was possible and whether anyone ever comes over from the other side. Again we sat under a tree. Again the locals assured us that in our cruiser it could be done. Emboldened once more we headed out to the border on a damp, dirt track.

Crossing Zambian immigration was a breeze. English politeness in a organized and clean immigration and customs office with plenty of smiles and handshakes. A very pleasant experience. Arriving at Angolan immigration was a rude wake up call. First a military screening. Then a long wait to find the immigration officer in the village and we are shepherded into a tiny, dingy broken room, riddled with bullet holes from the civil war. The room is dark and cool and somewhat desolate and gloomy, free of any modernities like power or lights, but with a single shaft of light from an empty window frame to light up the ancient desk. Portuguese only. Not a word of English. So lots of hand signals and explanations and patience before we are finally stamped through with a 30day Angolan visa in our passports.

Then to customs in another broken down, even darker and gloomier, room next door to get a temporary import permit (Tips) for the car. But first a thorough search of the car. Everything is taken out. Searched thoroughly. Until they satisfied and done. Then four calls follow to four officers higher up the command chain. Lots of in house negotiation before we get approval to pass. And we are given a single sheet of paper for the car without the official stamp, which we were told to get at the first town on the Angolan side. Clutching our paper like a lifeline, we headed out into the unknown.

The over 100kms drive from the Caripande border to Cazombo is almost indescribable. Sand tracks with unseeingly deep troughs of water all the way. We dip and soar into large puddles of water every minute or two, water shooting out over the bonnet and smothering the windscreen with mud repeatedly. We cross countless rickety, wood constructed, single vehicle bridges over rivers and vast wetlands. Most of the bridges are so broken down that we had to get out and walk a navigation track to follow to cross the bridge safely and just hope and pray it would hold our 3.5 ton cruiser.

As we slowly clock each kilometer we are gripped by the knowledge that whatever happens to us, there is certainly no turning back. We find fear and resolve all at the same time. Undeterred by what’s in front of us because we know what’s behind us. And we can’t go back.

Huge cumulonimbus clouds build up in front of us. Against the forest framed sky they are huge and wild and spectacularly beautiful. Images of the Great Plains of Africa flood our brains, or so we tell ourselves. And no sooner is our admiration of the cloud formations over and then the rains come down as the darkness set in. Hard rains. Belting down in sheets so strong that my wipers are on their fastest speed to keep my visibility just vaguely alive. The rain turns the already muddy tracks into long stretches of sheer mud and sliding madness. Travel speed is reduced to 10 to 20kph. We haven’t seen a vehicle track, let alone a vehicle, in eight hours. The trooper is heaving and creaking and rocking and sliding. Our Garmin, loaded with open street maps, is giving us directions. Follow the track it says. Follow the Garmin I say. Hope and hope and hope again. Bit by bit. Step by step. Kilo by kilo. We hold on to our commitment. Fighting fear and fatigue. Hour after hour. Until finally, finally we arrive in the small town of Cazombo. Breathless. Speechless. Exhausted. We can think of only one thing : head for the police station.

It’s a Sunday night. There are people everywhere. Dark bent shapes of poverty huddled up against the mud and rain. We are asking everyone we see in the pelting rain and darkness : “policia?”. We are all alone but strangely we are not lonely. Foreign country. Foreign language. But we are trusting the humanity of the people around us. They WILL direct us. And they do. We arrive at a big blue building with a sprawling back yard and “policia” written all over it.

After much negotiation in broken English, and using google translate on our phones, we are finally given permission to sleep over in the police yard at Cazombo. But only after we had shown the cops our cruiser and our sleeping and eating arrangements and the details of the route we have travelled to get to them. From Cape Town to Cazombo that is. The cops form a half moon of sentries around us. And watch us. So we start eating our veggies. And they watch. We get unchanged and into bed, whilst they still watched. Like we were some weird kind of aliens from another century. We left them still watching us as we fell into a deep and forgiving sleep. Feeling accomplished. But mostly just relieved and secure under the watchful stare of a half moon of cops in the yard of their station at Cazombo.

At dawn we are serving coffees to the cops and negotiating how to find the commissar to give us our vehicle stamp. More waiting under trees – this time at the commissars house. More negotiation and explanation. More passports and drivers license and ownership papers being inspected. And finally we get the Tips stamp on our piece of paper and we can leave Cazombo to head north. Feeling all cop cared and cleared and rather squeaky clean.

Then followed four more days of hard off road driving. The jeep track turned into a “road” north of Cazombo. The road was more like a wide mud slide that weaves and cuts into hill after hill of endless and glorious equatorial forest. After each hill the road drops into the valleys of rivers and mangroves and open wetland and grassland plains. Up and down and up and down, again and again. Hour after hour. Day after day. We are riding this mud highway. Riding behind rows of massive trucks through deep ruts of mud and water and slide and more mud and more water. The road swings onwards and upwards and into what was once tar and now turned to mud. Or rather half mud and half broken tar. The worst. Huge potholes. Massive rutting. Deep dongas across the road. All that with more mud and slide and bump. Patience and more patience required. Speeds of 10 to 20kph maximum. We have done 500kms at least when we are told we face another 200kms of this madness. My heart sinks but my resolve steels. We have already done a huge chunk of the 2.500kms Angolan east to west crossing. I won’t give up. I can’t. We drive on. Day after day through many hard long days from dawn to dusk. Finding wild camps at the side of the road in the forest at dusk. Stopping to rest. Eating. Ablutions. Sleeping. And starting again with the first bird calls at dawn. Day after day. For five days in a row.

There is a rule on this road. We learn it from the actions of the truckers. The rule is: no rules. Or more accurately : only the road rules. This means you can pass left or right. Drive right or left. Do whatever you need to do to ride the slides and jolts and sheering bumps of the road. But do it with respect for the other. Predict. Think. Preempt. Ride that road. Ride and ride it again and again. Ride free and ride safe by respecting the road and each other. That’s how it goes. All the way. The truckers know. You learn the way of the road and follow the truckers wisdom.

At one point we are locked behind a mini bus of sorts carrying thirty odd passengers. It splutters and chockes out diesel smoke and gets stuck and then freed from the mud twice in front of our eyes. Each time the passengers all get out and get to work – pushing and shoving and digging. Until finally it gets stuck again. Deeply stuck. More digging and shoving. Now people are breaking branches off the bushes. Stuffing the branches under the wheels deep into the red mud. Heaving and pushing and pulling by maximum collective human endeavor. But the mini bus won’t budge. It is stuck solid. An hour of attempts at freeing the bus passes and it’s still immovable. Some of the passengers are head to toe in the thick red ocher colored mud. Their clothes are wrecked. Sweat and mud and flies everywhere. And still the hot sun beats down. Relentlessly.

We are watching and talking all the time from inside the cool cabin of our cruiser. We know in our hearts that there is an unwritten rule on African roads: you don’t leave a brother stranded on the road unless there is nothing you can do to free them. Absolutely nothing. So we follow our heads and our hearts. We get out and get dirty with the people too. Pulling a tow rope from my recovery gear I’m under the cruiser and hooking up. Angolans hook up the bus. The first reverse attempt in low four wheel drive snaps the steel hookup on the bus. So we start again. This time a passenger dives way deeper into the mud under the bus. I can’t see what’s happening but he hooks us up again somewhere under the chassis of the vehicle. And we good to go. Test two. Hard reverse pull. Mud spinning wheels of the bus. Diesel smoke and anticipation thick in the wet hot air. And magic: the cruiser pulls the bus out in low ratio reverse. Amazing. There is great celebration. Much hand clapping and congratulations and smiles. A palpable relief fills the space where hopelessness once stood.

With the bus free I can now kick into second gear low ratio forward drive and cruise gently passed the happy crowd of passengers. They are free to travel and we are free pass. The road rule complied with to the letter. The cruiser is king. All good to go on our way. Someone else will help them if they get stuck again. My conscience is clear.

It’s an epic trip with a singular end goal: to reach Kalandula Falls and the pure pleasure of some stability of a badly pot holed, yet tarred, road.

We find that pleasure just outside Malanje. The road smooths out into more tar than mud. And then more tar and less mud. And more. And more. Until at last it is almost normal for stretches of two, then five and then more kilos. Until it finally becomes a normal African tar road peppered with the constant lookout for giant potholes. And you can cruise and swerve and avoid a pothole and then fly free once more. And so it goes. All the way to Malanje and onwards to Kalandula Falls.

Finally let me say this : we feel steeled and strong. Really. We feel like we have faced some of the most treacherous roads and edgy conditions in our Angolan crossing. And we made it. We are one month into our trip. We are ready. Ready for the great north drive. Ready for whatever Africa throws at us. Morocco here we come.

Ten million or more bats

Bats. Straw colored fruit bats. Ten million of them. Said to be the biggest mammal migration on earth. Bigger than annual human migration in the 21st century? Dunno. Maybe. But certainly, in the natural world as a single event, an exceptional annual phenomenon.

The bat migration is an event that occurs between late October and early December every year when the bats migrate, flying through the nights and roosting by day, from their homelands in the Ugandan and Congolese equatorial forests to Kasanka National Park in Zambia. Well not exactly. Because Kasanka is largely a park of miombe woodland forest. And the bats only go to a very small and defined 360 square meters of this woodland – into the red mahogany canopy cluster of the forest.

That’s it. Ten million bats daily roost under the canopy of 360 square meters of the red mahogany. They are here in Kasanka to feed and not to breed. Waking at 18.00hrs, they  swarm over the red wood canopy before heading out in all directions to feed in a 70km radius. Every night they repeat the same act : eating a third of their 300 odd gram body weight. Their diet are the water berries and masaka fruit that grow wild in the miombe forests of eastern Zambia. And they also eat some mangoes if they can get through the nets that the villagers cover their mango trees with to protect them.

During this bat feeding frenzy, the bats are themselves preyed upon by martial and crowned eagles, who wait in the forest and take down bats once they are in flight. From the ground come huge African pythons climbing the trees to feed on the bats whilst they roost during the day. And at times when the bats overcrowd a branch above a river that runs through the forest, weighing in down close to the water surface, crocodiles launch themselves into the roosting bat colony to feed on them too.

But it’s the spectacle of 10 million bats casting a dark blanket cloud over the dawn or dusk sky that naturalists from around the world come to see in Kasanka. And it’s beyond ones wildest imagination to see this unforgettable sight. The bats are larger than what one would imagine, with a wingspan of 70cms. They look like birds in their graceful dipping and climbing flight pattern. And the way they swarm together, darkening the sky with their massive numbers, is simply jaw dropping. And then without warning they head out in all directions, seemingly guided by an internal radar system that directs them to their feeding grounds.

From the 60m high BBC bat hide that protrudes above the forest canopy we watched in awe this unique natural spectacle. The hissing sound of bat wings in flight, combined with a squeaking noise of what felt like squeals of excitement, deafens the dawn bird calls. It’s pervasive. And smothering. And simply awe inspiring.

In the end we were left silenced. Humbled. Contemplative. This is the world we suffocate out in our hell bent destruction of forests and natural habitats. Listen to the bats. This is their world that we must hear in every flutter of wing and squeal of mouth : it speaks in sounds that come from our most ancient ancestors of over fifty million years ago. It is the voice of our evolutionary home and of our heritage. Destroy it and we will destroy ourselves.

Mozambique reflection

Heading east from Mutare into Mozambique we glide through villages and small towns on a brand new asphalt highway that is the main line to Beira. The highway was opened the day after we passed through by the president of Mozambique. Like so many other countries in Africa, the highway has been built by the Chinese in exchange for access to the natural resources of this timber, pelagic and mineral rich country.

Rather than back track west on our tracks, we decide to drive directly north from Gorongosa on the N1 and branch off road on a 100kms jeep track to Macossa and Comacha. The track heads north west and shows as a brown line on Tracks4Africa but doesn’t appear anywhere else on our Garmin navigation system. It’s a risk, we know. We could get marooned. Or have to track back. But it’s a risk worth taking. And it pays off: we get to see countless raptors in the tracks that are drinking from road pools created from recent rain showers. And the track gives us the unsettling experience of seeing deep into the deforestation of the Mozambique hinterland. Everywhere, as we drive over the isolated tracks, we find large ancient trees lying face down on the ground. Dead. Felled by a hungry village woodsman. Now waiting for the flatbed trucks to haul them to Beira and beyond to China. When we finally reach the main north road to Tete, we find ourselves behind row upon row of these flatbed trucks hauling huge logs of timber. And if it’s not logs that they carry, it’s massive granite blocks that have been carved out of the mountainside and are now being hauling overland. Behind the timber trucks.

But it’s not just the big red mahogany woods and the granite for foreign export that we see. It’s the whole countryside that is being torn apart. It looks in places like a wasteland. A horror show. Big chunks of miombo forest torn out. The wooded backbone of the land all felled for charcoal production for the cities. And then the open earth is share cropped for a single season and is now lying fallow. Mozambique’s natural resources are being raped. That’s how it seemed to me from all I saw and all I heard on the street conversations I had with local people. The truckers themselves tell stories of no controls and the expats tell stories of rape and pillage “free for all”. Of officialdom happy to have foreigners mine or harvest whatever they want in return for building some infrastructure or getting some bribe money or tax revenue.

Its an economic recolonization. This time from the east. One shudders to think about the end point knowing after the mining and logging and fishing is done. There isn’t much left of the natural world to sustain itself or its citizens.  And so with the death of that world our humanity suffocates and dies too. And with that, for the next generation at least, our species itself is at threat.